Even if States Legalize Pot, Still a Fed. Crime

By Deanne Katz, Esq. on October 24, 2012 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Three more states may soon make pot legal if their ballot measures pass in the November election. Washington, Oregon, and Colorado all have efforts to make marijuana legal on the ballots.

Polls indicate that the Washington measure is currently favored and that Colorado supporters have a slight advantage. While the Oregon measure still has more opposition than support, at least one state may legalize marijuana this year, reports Huffington Post.

But if you're in favor of the measure, don't start celebrating just yet. Even if some states legalize pot, that doesn't mean federal officials will follow suit.

The Justice Department doesn't plan to change its policy on marijuana even if more states legalize the drug, according to Deputy Attorney General James Cole.

The status of marijuana is a touchy subject between state and federal government these days. A significant minority of states have decriminalized pot and 17 states permit medical use of marijuana, reports NBC News. But according to federal law it's still illegal.

States have the right to regulate things not laid out by the federal government but in this case federal law makes marijuana an illegal substance.

Federal officials can enforce federal law anywhere in the country. That means even if a substance is legal in your state, you can still get in trouble under federal law.

For now states and federal government share regulation in this area but when state and federal laws come into conflict, federal law wins under the Supremacy Clause.

In terms of seniority, federal law always controls state law. The catch is that state officials can't be made to enforce federal law.

That means if marijuana is legalized in one of the three states mentioned, federal officials can't force state police officers to arrest people using marijuana. What they can do is send in federal law enforcement, such as DEA agents, to enforce federal law.

Cole's statement makes it unclear where federal officials would interfere with state licensed 'pot shops' if marijuana is legalized later this year. We'll have to await November's results to see if it will be an issue.

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